Not Waving But Drowning

Bullying is a serious problem in Britain’s workplaces. ACAS receive 20,000 calls related to workplace bullying and harassment each year. Bullying behaviour can have an insidious and long-standing impact on the organisation, the targets and their families.

The vast majority of victims of bullying do their very best to carry on as normal, they work hard, do their best to be cheerful and carry on as if nothing is happening; they suffer in silence. It isn’t always possible to know from their actions how deeply they are being affected and much like the man in Stevie Smith’s poem their ability to carry on can easily be misinterpreted.

The most commonly used definition of workplace bullying is that of psychologically abusive and intimidating behaviour. It is often, but not exclusively,  perpetrated by managers.

What should you look out for?

·       Targeting an employee for sarcastic comments in meetings.

·       Unrealistically heavy workloads.

·       Demands to forego long-planned holidays, or be available to take on others’ shifts or workloads.

·       Micromanaging and then punishing the employee for failing to meet ill or undefined standards.

·       Withholding information or vital resources.

·       Demotions implied if there is failure to comply with high demands.

·       Gossiping or spreading rumours about an employee

Such behaviours may occur when there are other pressures, such as lowering costs or increasing productivity, restructuring, or redundancy threats.

Bullying tends to occur where leadership in the organisation is too autocratic or too passive, where conflict is avoided, when workloads are unreasonable, and when the seriousness of bullying is not understood.

The results

Rudeness and dismissiveness of subordinates may be considered in some work environments to be ‘part of the business world’ and that those who succeed ‘develop thick skins’. Yet, workplace bullying comes at a high cost. The employer may face absenteeism, lost productivity, high staff turnover and potential legal costs.

The workers affected may suffer ill health, both mental and physical, which will spill over into their home life.

Actions to take

A bullied member of staff may find it hard to report or raise a grievance. By creating a culture where bullying is openly condemned and not tolerated, where complaints are handled seriously but tactfully, and the impact of managerial styles is not belittled, the problem can be prevented.

If you need help or advice on writing and implementing an anti-bullying policy, or dealing with a grievance, please contact Charlton Associates -


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